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SOCOM Commander Says Op-Tempo Stressing Special Operations Personnel

U.S. Special Operations Command Commander Gen. Joseph L. Votel makes his remarks at the Ranger Memorial in Fort Benning, GA, Oct. 03, 2014. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Steve Cortez/ Released)
U.S. Special Operations Command Commander Gen. Joseph L. Votel makes his remarks at the Ranger Memorial in Fort Benning, GA, Oct. 03, 2014. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Steve Cortez/ Released)

TAMPA, Fla. -- The commander of U.S. Special Operations Command conceded Tuesday that his elite forces are feeling the strain from the ever-increasing demand of global missions.

Unlike U.S. conventional combat forces -- which have seen a decrease in regular deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan -- SOF units continue to be in high demand.

"We have found ourselves operating in possibly the most complex strategic environment in recent history," Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of USSCOM, told an audience here at the 2015 Special Operations Forces Industry Conference.

"Recent months have seen an incredible eruption in terms of foreign fighter flow into the Middle East in support of ISIL," Votel added, referring to Islamic extremists also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

"These fighters are coming from all over the world to support an ideology that none of us in this room can truly comprehend. SOCOM plays a very important role in countering this effort today, and we will continue to do so in the future."

Over the weekend, U.S. special operators executed a mission in Syria that killed the top financial officer of ISIS that also resulted in the collection of key intelligence.

In addition, there has also been a growing relationship between terrorists and trans-national criminal organizations that move money, people and weapons in support of violent extremism, Votel said.

"And violent extremism is not just a problem in the Middle East," Votel said. "We see a distressing rise in the ungoverned spaces of Africa and Asia as ISIL is spreading its evil templates and latching onto organizations such as Boko Haram and influence others like al-Shabaab."

The sustained, high op-tempo has forced Votel to place a strong emphasis on creating programs designed to deal with the problems that can be created from back-to-back deployments.

"We do feel stress in the force here," Votel said. "We do have young members that exhibit behaviors that we sort of need to help them with ... so we are paying an extraordinary amount of attention to it. It has my full attention, and it has my leaders' full attention."

"We have done studies over the years with our people and with their families to address the predictability aspect of our operations. This may be something that we did not fully grasp in the early years of the last 12 to 14 years of time, the impact of repeated deployments, but it is certainly something we understand now."

To address this, SOCOM has put a process in place where leaders can monitor and manage the personnel tempo of all the people and the units so they understand "when we look to deploy them beyond what we consider to be within an acceptable level of risk to them," Votel said.

"The first part of this is being disciplined within ourselves and making sure we have a process to [manage] our most important resource, our people, and we aren't having them literally meeting themselves coming and going with deployments," Votel said.

"I think we are having good success with this; there is a program that has been in place for a couple of years."

An key role of USSOCOM is to look at all the areas that require SOF operations and prioritizing them, Votel said.

"We can't do everything," he said. "There are some areas and activities that are more important than others, so we have to be smart about where we manage our forces."

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com

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